20.05.2013 mihai tudoroiu
Minor cultures face two main tendencies when it comes to recognizing the value of artists and their creations: on the one hand, the aggrandisement and over-evaluation of the classics; on the other, the ignoring and lack of knowledge of the pioneers and seminal figures in the field of the applied arts and the abandoning of their works based on perceived obsolescence.
During the last 120 years, the history of the applied arts in Romania (I’m referring here in particular to graphic design) evolved from the likes of the Polish artist Witold Rola Piekarski – one of the more representative artists of the time who introduced the Art Nouveau style to Romania through his works published by Minerva and in avant-garde journals (Contimporanul, Integral, Punct, Adam, Unu, 75 HP) – and Max Herman Maxy – perhaps the first indigenous brand designer (Studio Maxy, the Academy of Decorative Arts) and responsible for designing all the standardised internal documents at the Gas and Electricity Works in Bucharest – and continued with Jules Perahim (among other things, one of the great book illustrators) and Iosif Molnar (both a painter of propaganda works but also a poster artist and stamp designer). Of course, they stand alongside many other names, of which little is known today.

I have taken the liberty of borrowing Angelo Mitchievici’s term of „archaeologist”. For the most part, the study of this type of art is still in the early stages of collection, selection, archiving and documentation, and before moving on to a visual analysis, the development of styles and semiotics, we need to make up for a lack of basic working tools: specialist dictionaries, guidebooks, lexicons, encyclopaedia and biographies. I believe that the salvaging of this fabulous heritage – whether from the political and propaganda, commercial or cultural spheres –also bears a close relation to our economic history, as well as that of the press, and that many fields will reap the benefit of this process of rediscovery, not just the aesthetic disciplines.

As one of the researchers for the Graphicfront project, I have noticed, however, that beyond the inherent shortcomings of this type of initiative the number of researchers, hobbyists and collectors involved is by no means small and that the melding together of individual or team contributions may, in the medium and long term, lead to institutionalised forms of collaboration. If, in the recent past as well as today, the majority (or perhaps the most visible) of these are private in nature, then I dare to hope that in future they will occur in the form of public-private partnerships or will at least involve experts from archives and libraries, given that the raw materials are to be found in libraries and museums, where they are waiting to discovered and appreciated.
I would like to cite the positive example of Alexandru Ciubotariu (Ciubi, Pisica Pătrată), who managed to create a Museum of Comic Strips, which was set up in a temporary space within the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The same recipe could equally be applied to posters, advertising materials and book and print design, etc. I can’t say whether, in a few years time, our endeavour will have taken the form of a Museum of Romanian Design, or whether it will be stuck at the stage of a virtual exhibition stand on the internet – but if the Dacoromanica digitalisation project was possible, then maybe the enthusiasm of the early (re)explorers of Romanian graphics will not wane too quickly or too soon.

In brief, there’s need of volunteers: „archaeologists” to scour the markets and fairs (including online, such as www.okazii.ro) and antique shops; librarians to search the archives for everything from receipts to posters; project managers, curators, publishers and sponsors. We can take encouragement from similar projects already in existence or under development in the former communist bloc, e.g. in Bulgaria (socmus.com) and Poland (Tomasz Lachowski).

photo Mihai Tudoroiu Archive
mihai tudoroiumarketing and communication specialist. For 10 years he worked for reference publications in the Romanian press: Income Magazine, Financial, Business Magazin, Gazeta Sport and National Journal. He joined the Graphic Front project in 2011.
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